The Commonwealth Games can never be the Olympics and nor should they try to be. Yet, even though Glasgow’s budget is a fraction of the size of London’s, and there will be fewer sports, nations and competitors on show, there is absolutely no reason why Glasgow cannot replicate the intensity, inclusiveness and success of the London Games.
That is the message from David Grevemberg, the energetic former weightlifter from Louisiana who is in charge of delivering Glasgow 2014. “The Commonwealth Games is different in many ways from the Olympics, but there’s so much we can learn from London,” said the 2014 chief executive. “In particular, the impact of social media. In London I was staggered at the impact it made – when competitors tweeted what they had for breakfast, how they felt before and after competing, they were including people and drawing them in. More than 50 per cent of the 1.4 billion people in the Commonwealth are under 25, so this is how we engage the worldwide audience.”
Yet, in a week when some more time-worn tactics will be used, with the unveiling of the Commonwealth Games mascot on Thursday and an open-top bus parade of Scolympians wending its way through Edinburgh today, all minds are finally focusing on Glasgow.
Although Grevemberg is deeply aware of the differences between the two Games, he also has one eye on the similarities. There will be, for instance, an opening ceremony of 60,000 at Celtic Park and a closing ceremony of 44,000 at Hampden and, if Glasgow has learned one thing from London, it’s that it’s OK to dare on such occasions. After all, these ceremonies are like Best Men’s speeches at weddings, where the audience is willing you to succeed. “We’ve got to put on a show, to put our best foot forward,” he said. “London got things off to a flying start with an opening ceremony which was innovative and exciting and it never looked back.”
These extravaganzas play directly to the world’s perception of the host nation, and how Scotland presents itself will be key to whether or not the Games get off on the right foot. London managed to mesh the old bowler hat and cricket stereotype with some more modern and esoteric images of the city as one of the trading hubs of the world. It’s a balancing act Glasgow will do well to emulate, hence Grevemberg’s enthusiasm for a 2014 cultural programme inspired by London’s.
He sensibly sidesteps the cultural context to the Glasgow Games, which is entirely different to London. When proceedings conclude in 2014, there will be barely three months to go until the independence referendum, and the nationalists will see this as a golden opportunity to, at the very least, bolster a sense of Scottishness and to prove competence on the world stage. The pressure to politicise a Games which will be viewed in all 54 Commonwealth nations and which will draw a television audience of one billion people around the world will be intense.
“I keep being asked about the politics, but that’s not why I’m here,” he said. “I’m here because I saw the transformational effect of the Manchester Commonwealth Games and the London Olympics and think we can deliver the same thing for Glasgow.”
If Grevemberg has some challenges in trying to emulate London, he also has some genuine opportunities to do better and is determined to seize them. Chief among these concerns is para-sport, which was a huge success in London. In Glasgow, the American will go one better by integrating para-sport with the Games themselves, so that Usain Bolt versus Dwain Chambers in the 100 metres will be followed five minutes later by Oscar Pistorius against Jonnie Peacock in the T44 equivalent.
Getting marquee names such as Pistorius and Peacock into the Commonwealth Games will, of course, contribute mightily to its financial and sporting success but so will getting the likes of Bolt, Pistorius, Sir Chris Hoy and Kenya’s David Rudisha to compete. At the recent Olympics, a quarter of all the medals won went to Commonwealth competitors and their presence, says Grevenmberg “is central to the Games’ sporting credibility”.
There is, of course, also a raft of general and specific logistical issues thrown up by London which Grevemberg and his colleagues are currently absorbing. Lord Coe is helping find the corporate sponsorship to financially underpin the Games, meaning Glasgow is already far ahead of Manchester and Melbourne at this stage. There have been lessons on logistical issues such as transport and infrastructure but there are also specific lessons. The equestrian arena at Greenwich, for instance, provided the idea to put the surface at Hampden on stilts, saving a fortune and sparing local residents two years of moving countless tons of hardcore in and out by lorry. The Scottish competitors at London also learned lessons that will come in useful in 2014.
Hoy believes the success of London can provide a benchmark and reassurance that it’ll all be alright on the night. “Glasgow has learnt [from London] that people are going to be massively behind it,” he said. “They’re going to see that the negative press that came before the Games was forgotten as soon as the Games started. People will have a bit more faith about what the Games can bring to the city and to the country. It can all be very positive and I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing event. And for the athletes, it’s great to have it to look forward to because I think everyone’s got a bit down now that the Olympics and Paralympics are finished.”
If Hoy is hoping to finish his competitive career in Glasgow, some others are not so lucky. Tennis player Colin Fleming, a medallist in Delhi, for one. “Tennis not being in Glasgow is a blow, a real sore one,” he said. “As a Scot I wanted the chance to defend my medal from Delhi, but it’s a sacrifice worth making to see Glasgow get the Games.”
Some athletes have a different perspective, however. Local swimmer and Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson reckons that while “the Commonwealth Games are continually to the forefront of my mind” that it is also good that “I’ll be down in Bath, so that’ll take some of the pressure off. It’ll be nice to be out of the limelight for a while.”
While the athletes lauded London, with Jamieson calling it “virtually perfect”, there was also an acknowledgement that the rivalry between the home countries could bring a sharp edge to proceedings which will differentiate it from the Olympics. Gymnast Daniel Purvis joked that his bronze-winning team included a Welshman, two Scotsman and a couple of Englishmen: “the banter has been fierce, and it started almost as soon as the Olympics finished.” It was a theme echoed by 23-year-old athlete Lynsey Sharp. “I’ve been thinking about these Commonwealth Games for a long time, and certainly from long before the Olympics, but now that London 2012 is over, it seems very real,” she said. “In fact almost as soon as the Games were over we [Team GB athletes] started joking about it. I just hope the attention turns to Glasgow and that everyone gets behind it, which looks like happening – I’ve never seen Scotland like it is today at George Square.
“But we’ve got to remember that Glasgow is not London. That was huge and everyone says there will never be anything like it but, for Scottish athletes like me, there will be. There’ll be another home Games in two years’ time when I’ll have the pressure of competing at home. I don’t think I’ll ever experience the level of noise again that I had running down that home straight in London with the noise ringing in my ears, but hopefully it’ll be like that in Glasgow, and the challenge will be to see if I can ignore the pressure as it builds up in my head. London was amazing but above all it showed me that each Games has its own challenges, and that will be mine.”